The pace of technological innovation in transportation, already rapid, seems likely to accelerate for many years to come. In the near term, existing technologies can improve the safety, efficiency, reliability, and resilience of our transportation network. In the long term, emerging technologies like connected and autonomous vehicles and private mobility services like car sharing and ridesourcing present both a remarkable opportunity and a challenge for regional planning. The increasing availability of real-time data, expanded communications technology, and emerging approaches to demand management and mobility lets us more effectively use the transportation system already in place today and prepare for future technological advances. By strategically employing technology, we can improve the way this network functions in support of community livability and economic vitality.
Some of the most promising innovations could improve travel time reliability, that is, increase predictability for the same trips compared day-to-day. FHWA estimates that 60 percent of travel delay nationwide is actually caused by non-recurring sources like crashes or other incidents, construction, and weather. Because these factors are less predictable than daily congestion factors such as travel demand and system capacity, they cause unreliable travel that costs drivers, transit riders, and businesses that must budget extra time and expense to avoid being late for work, appointments, or deliveries. ON TO 2050 sets a target of improving the reliability of travel on the interstate system, which will have broad benefits for the entire transportation system.
Reliability is best improved by changing how roads are managed and operated, rather than expanding the system. Increasingly, highway management involves data, communications, and technologies that help system managers optimize traffic flow, and detect and respond to situations as they arise. On a regional scale, this will involve coordination and communication between highway agencies, emergency management services, transit operators, and real-time traveler information services, paired with extensive deployment of communications and data processing infrastructure. Because incidents on one agency’s road network can have major impacts on other networks, the region clearly needs a more holistic, integrated approach to traffic management. This is particularly true in congested corridors where the interstate and arterial systems interact and deteriorating traffic conditions on one system affect the performance of the other.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show technology investments and their benefits for travel reliability.]
CMAP evaluated a number of strategies for improving reliability and found that enhancing incident management, facilitated through better information sharing, was among the most effective approaches. Similarly, implementing traffic management centers (TMCs), another strategy that relies heavily on better information exchange facilitated by technology, is extremely effective. Information exchange can improve response to changing situations like special events and other variations in traffic by allowing transportation agencies to change traffic signal timing, alter ramp meter timing, provide real-time traveler information, and take other steps to balance travel demand among arterials, interstates, and transit services in a corridor during peak congestion and major incidents. While there are some existing examples of limited corridor-level integration where agencies manage arterial traffic signals to improve safety of expressway ramps and mainlines and where different system operators post messages about conditions on other corridor roadways, more progress is necessary to meet regional goals for system reliability. Future mainstream adoption of connected vehicle technology, which can allow vehicles to communicate with one another as well as with traffic signals, TMCs, and other infrastructure can amplify the effectiveness of investments in modernized infrastructure. For example, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) has been reconstructed to include flexible infrastructure to accommodate new “smart” features, such as roadway cameras that enhance the Tollway’s ability to respond to traffic and weather incidents and enable transit to bypass incidents using the flex lane.
The transit system can also benefit from adopting innovative technologies and enhancing existing systems. Even in the highest ridership corridors, transit only captures a fraction of the potential travel market. Reevaluating these corridors may reveal opportunities to improve services and employ some of the technologies developed by private sector mobility services. Traffic management centers can provide operators with more timely and accurate performance data to better manage their systems. Sensors, GPS tracking capabilities, and communications infrastructure being implemented by Metra as part of Positive Train Control not only improve system safety but also offer additional opportunities to collect and share real-time travel information about the system. Bus routes on roads with transit signal priority (TSP) can make transit trips faster and more reliable than passenger vehicle trips. Real-time information about arrivals and departures, travel times, and incidents is already helping bus and train passengers to plan more reliable commutes via transit or multiple modes. While continuing to evolve, these technologies offer opportunities for transit agencies to collect and analyze important new information to improve passengers’ experiences. See the Make transit more competitive recommendation for more information.
The pace and disruptive nature of technological change make it difficult to predict just how transportation will evolve by 2050. Much discussion of technology’s potential impacts generally revolves around two divergent outcomes. In the first, personal ownership of AVs would result in more inefficient land development, less public transit use, and increased traffic from low-occupancy or even unoccupied vehicles. In the second, more preferable future, fleets of shared vehicles would reduce individual car ownership, facilitate more dense, walkable development patterns, and increase transit ridership, walking, and biking. In both cases, technology could enable safer, more independent mobility for residents throughout the region, yet also could exacerbate existing disparities. The most likely outcome is a mix of these impacts that vary across the U.S., highly dependent on how much AVs cost, how quickly they predominate among vehicles, and how local policy makers address these converging challenges. Our region can make decisions and policies now to smooth the transition to a more automated fleet while affirmatively guiding the future impacts of AVs to meet regional goals. These policies also often meet existing goals for the system, such as implementing managed lanes to increase travel choices. With strategic investments and policy interventions, our leaders must shape the development of emerging technologies and better position the Chicago region to achieve economic vitality and improved quality of life for all. Such decisions about investments and policies should be coordinated across many levels of government with participation by residents, civic leaders, and the private sector, always keeping in mind that technology should be deployed in service of regional goals.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show potential land use and transportation impacts of autonomous vehicles.]
Technologies discussed in this recommendation have the potential to generate more data on mobility than ever before. Increased real-time transportation data can provide a deeper understanding of travel behavior and help agencies make informed decisions about investments, policies, and operations. The private sector, particularly goods movement companies and TNCs, has already benefited from such data to improve operations, decrease delivery/travel times, and create new services, but they often resist sharing data with public agencies or participating in open data portals, citing privacy and competitive concerns. Even data systems within an individual public agency may be fragmented and difficult to use, hampering staff from fully harnessing operational data for decision making. Infrastructure, processing power, consistent systems, and extensive coordination will be required to make the best use of emerging technology and data resources.
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.